A network embed’s primary job — capturing whatever a candidate does and says on the campaign trail — hasn’t changed much over time. But in 2020, NBC embeds’ reporting “is going to be used 7,000 different ways,” political director Chuck Todd said.
Every four years, the networks pick a stable of young journalists who obsessively follow a campaign or move to an early voting state, racking up airline miles and hotel points while serving as the news division’s eyes and ears on the ground.
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This cycle, the NBC embeds’ video and written work, once meant largely for internal consumption, will be spread across the broadcast network, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo, NBCNews.com, on podcasts and on platforms such as Snapchat and YouTube, Todd said.
On Monday, NBC announced its 2020 embed class, a group of 10 reporters and producers selected from more than 300 applicants: Maura Barrett, Micki Fahner, Amanda Golden, Gary Grumbach, Jordan Jackson, Julia Jester, Ben Pu, Marianna Sotomayor, Deepa Shivaram and Priscilla Thompson.
Todd, who hosts “Meet the Press” and oversees the embed program with NBC News Politics managing editor Dafna Linzer, said the group, combined with a new stable of national political reporters and veteran TV correspondents, will allow the news division to broaden its national footprint from four years earlier.
“Maybe we covered this country too much from the air only, and we were not on the ground in enough places,” Todd said. “Now, we can be on the ground arguably in twice as many places as we were in 2016, four times the places as we were in ‘12.”
The sprawling 2020 Democratic primary field, with nearly two dozen contenders, presents a unique challenge to political directors and editors. But Todd said if he deployed his entire team, NBC News could assign a reporter to every candidate.
“If we really needed to put a person on everybody, we could right now put a person on everybody,” he said. “Is that how we’re going to cover this? No, that’s not the smart way to cover this.”
Todd expects some candidates will be covered daily by embeds or national political reporters. There will also be zone coverage, with embeds assigned to key states or regions. Those assignments could shift as the Democratic field changes.
Life on the road for upward of 18 months can be grueling, but the embed gig is also a traditional stepping stone. NBC political reporters and editors such as Monica Alba, Shaq Brewster, Carrie Dann, Garrett Haake, Vaughn Hillyard, Jo Ling Kent, Ali Vitali, Alex Moe and Mike Memoli, who is currently covering former Vice President Joe Biden, all served as embeds.
CBS News came under scrutiny earlier this year when it announced its team of a dozen journalists, which didn’t include any African-Americans. “Unacceptable in 2019,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.). “Try again.”
The NBC embed team for 2020 includes eight women and several journalists of color. “We have the 10 best people here, regardless of what they look like and where they came from,” said Todd, who said the network considered “all sorts of diversity, including geographic.”
“I think if you don’t look like 21st century America,” he added, “then you can’t cover American politics very well.”